It’s been nearly a year and a half since our last interview here at Kitelife and we figured what better opportunity for our next one, than with this young up-and-comer from Williamsburg, Virginia.
Having quickly earned a name for himself as an excellent sport kite pilot and competitor, Will Sturdy is also an accomplished kite maker and designer, so much so that he became the youngest Grand Champion in history at the 2010 AKA Grand Nationals, beating out John Pollock with the highest scores in single line craftsmanship.
At just 17 years old, Will is already pushing the envelope on both sport kite and single line fields and is just one shining example of the youth who can and will be leading the way for kiting in the future… Enough said, let’s get into his head and find out a little about what makes him tick.
Hello, Will. Let’s start this interview off the easy way. How did you first get started in recreational kiting? When did that happen, what got you started, and what really grabbed your interest so that you stayed?
My first experiences with kites came from an Into the Wind catalog that randomly showed up in our mailbox sometime in the spring of 2005. To this day I have yet to figure out why it got sent to our address. I spent hours looking at the kites in the catalog, digesting all the information that I could. Being an 11 year old, there was absolutely no way that I could afford anything in that catalog though. So after saving up for a while, I got a copy of Maxwell Eden’s Magnificent Book of Kites. I read that thing cover to cover multiple times. I started building sleds from trash bags and drinking straws, and ‘real’ kites followed shortly after.
Kite design and building has definitely been what’s kept me interested in kites. I’m the type of guy who likes making stuff, so I’ve always leaned towards that side of any hobby that I get involved in.
Kites are cool in that there’s a lot of room for development and variety. Finding new shapes that fly well fascinates me.
Once you got rolling, who did you fly with and who acted as your teacher or mentor? Did you join a club, hang out with a group of fliers, or just fly alone?
I didn’t fly with anybody else until the Outer Banks Sport Kite Championships in 2006. I was inspired by what I saw people doing with sport kites. After that, I met up with the RAF people at their monthly fly, and they taught me lots and helped guide me. Marc Conklin loaned me his set of STX 2.3s and I had a ton of fun flying them. They were leagues beyond the intro kites I’d been flying before. I got myself a set of STXs and I flew those for about a year.
Marc Conklin, Doug Charleville, and Stoney Stonestreet gave me a lot of inspiration and direction, but since the monthly flies were so far away and only once a month, I didn’t get to fly with them nearly as much as I would have liked.
I found the GWTW forum and learned a lot there. I’m still learning from just about everyone I fly with, but I think the friendliness of the folks with the RAF is probably the most responsible thing for giving me the motivation to improve my flying. Most of my learning has been on my own through trial and error though, as that’s how I learn stuff best.
Sooner or later, you got to the point where you wanted to compete. Was that a natural result of your flying interests, or did someone approach you directly to start competing?
I started competing before I new what serious sport kite flying was. I’d read in the ITW catalog that some kites were designed to be flown in competition, so I looked online and eventually came across the Outer Banks Sport Kite Championships (OBSKC). I went to that in 2006 knowing no more about sport kite competition than what I’d read in the AKA rulebook and got totally smoked. That’s where I met the folks from the RAF who helped me advance quickly into being a competitive flier.
How was your first competition experience, and what were some of the most interesting learning curves for you?
OBSKC ’06 was awesome. I could barely fly, but I got to see what real fliers could do. I remember seeing Robert Randolph tricking a Mohawk and that inspired me. I really wanted to be able to that sort of thing. By the time the next event rolled around, Mid-Atlantic SKC (MASKC) ’07, I had learned enough to do respectably in the novice class. From there I advanced through the classes quickly without any real difficulties. Kite flying and tricks in particular came really easily to me.
Do you have any advice or words of wisdom for fliers who are considering sport kite competition for the first time? Any tips, tricks or a general mindset and outlook when you step onto the field?
The most important thing is to go out and have fun. If you do what the judges want and get a good score that’s nice, but in my mind not as important as enjoying yourself. Few people are perfect on the field, and occasionally judges just don’t seem to be giving scores that make sense. Not focusing on the score as the primary thing stepping onto the field makes almost any event fun, even if the scores aren’t what was hoped for.
Has your family been supportive of your passion for kiting, and do any of them fly with you at home or during events?
Yes! My parents have been good enough to get me to and from lots of events and provided tons of encouragement. Most importantly though, they have allowed me to do my own thing, they’ve put up with my kite building obsession even when it seems like I’m totally crazy.
No one else in my family flies much, but my father has had enough time at events to practice that he’s competing and we fly together on a team with Doug Charleville and whoever else we can get to join the team at events.
While you developed both as a flier and competitor, what other fliers did you find inspirational either in person or through video online, and what was it about their flying that captured your attention?
Far too many to list! At MASKC in 2007 I got to watch Ron Graziano fly. I love his style. I’ve never been one for smooth and flowing, and his fast and sharp style appealed to me. I’ve been trying to approach his level ever since. I have had the same reaction watching videos of Richard Debray. More recently, I’ve been inspired by Chris Goff’s ability to string together tricks that I’d never thought possible in a blindingly fast way.
As an up and coming “ace” on the competition field, what are your thoughts on the current format and how it’s working for both competitors and volunteer staff?
I think that the current format works well for the people it’s designed for – folks who want to go out on a field and carve figures and do a few precise tricks. The problem is that that’s an increasingly small portion of sport kite fliers. I think that fliers are there who would be happy to get into competition if they were offered something that interested them. This was evident at the last tricks party event held back on 2008.
Even though we didn’t have the structure of an AKA event, didn’t have the possibility of qualifying for a higher level of competition, and had every single person competing in the same class, we still had an outstanding turnout. Everyone showed up knowing that Ron was going to win, but that wasn’t a deterrent.
If a format such as this became the focus of sport kite competition, I think that it might have a future. The current precision centric format is so outdated that I don’t think that it can ever be modified to be as viable an event as it once was.
So from a flier standpoint, you’ve said the current format is “precision centric” and it would seem your experience with Tricks Party (TP) indicates that competitors were driven to greater participation by the added focus on tricks… Will you elaborate a little on what dynamics may have played a role in this?
The current competition format was created for a very different style of kites. Back when the modern format was created, there wasn’t much more to flying than turns, corners, and lines. The format reflected the designs that people flew at the time. Kites have progressed beyond that point, but the format has remained mostly the same. A few extra bits have been added to the judging criteria to reflect a few changes with the addition of slack line tricks, but the format is still based around a precision mindset. That’s not how most people fly nowadays.
Tricks Party is still VERY popular throughout parts of Europe but as you said, the last such event in North America was held in 2008… In your own experience, what do you think led to the decline, and ultimately the end of the Tricks Party format in North America?
I only got in on tricks party at the last two events, so I’m far from an expert on the matter. From what I saw, I don’t think it was participation that caused the decline. Rather it was the limitations imposed by the rules that TPUSA was being run with.
The rules for who could judge and such were designed for the much more developed European TP events. In order to maintain ties with that organization, the judge requirements were not changed. That led to a very small pool of judges, each of whom would have to stand out on the field for an entire weekend judging. That just doesn’t work over here.
As I understand it, Ron and Steph did close to 100% of the work that went into organizing the events. They have my respect for that, as that most certainly could not have been easy. Not having the help of any parent organization like the AKA, though, they were never able to pass on any of that responsibility. There were many people who really did not want to see TPUSA go, but there was little any of us could do when Ron and Steph decided to retire from running the events.
Do you have any thoughts on how organized sport kite competition in the USA could better appeal to the general public and increase the number of new participants?
As I said above, the best way to get new participants in competition would be to make it relevant to the style of flying in vogue. Keeping what we’ve got now is not going to lead to new competitors who are serious about competing.
I don’t think that we’ll ever be able to make most sport kite competitions relevant to the general public. What we can do is integrate sport kites into festivals. Treasure Island did a great job doing that last year. We had our competition area were we flew our competition events, but we were only a sideshow to the main festival. I think that that’s the way an event should be if we’re looking to cause an impact on the general public.
Stuff like iQuad and other demos draws a crowd. I don’t think we’ll ever be able to get that same level of crowd participation into a mainstream sport kite competition. That sort of thing is achievable with a format like the Hot Tricks Shootout, but I don’t think that that sort of thing should be the emphasis of competitions. That sort of competition is extremely fun for competitors and spectators alike though.
There’s been some discussion about implementing MIX format, wherein precision freestyle is eliminated and compulsories are flown immediately prior to ballet for a total combined (overall) score… What is your take on this, pros and cons?
I think that a mix would be better than what we’ve got now for sure. It would reduce the amount of time which people have to invest in preparation for events, possibly slowing down the decrease in fliers. I think that a more drastic change away from the out-dated styles of flying focus is needed though.
Throughout the 90s, serious dual line teams were fairly commonplace at competitions throughout the US with a half-dozen or more appearing at nearly every event… Do you have any thoughts on why there aren’t more teams nowadays and how their presence (or lack of) impacts our competitive and recreational communities, respectively?
I think this goes right back to a theme I’ve been alluding to throughout this interview – precision flying is not the current style most new fliers fly. Team by its very nature has to be precision focused, as coordinating trick/freestyle flying is very difficult. That makes it an entirely separate form of flying from what most people practice. I know when I started flying team, I had a lot to learn. It is so very different that I had not had much experience to prepare me for that style of flying.
Honestly I think that quad line teams are the future of team flying. It’s something everyone can get in on and that uses skills that are pretty much identical to what most quad fliers fly individually.
Just as quad teams have drawn quad fliers together, the decreasing number of dual line teams have made dual line fliers much more of an isolated bunch though. Most fliers seldom fly with others. I wasn’t involved with kiting when there were many teams, but from what I’ve read it seems like teams often brought good fliers together regularly, resulting in continued interest by fliers who might otherwise gradually fade away after reaching the top. At least on the East coast, much of the top tier of fliers has drifted off. I’m not sure how much of that is a result of the decrease in interest in teams, but I think that some of that loss of skilled fliers can be attributed to teams disappearing.
All right, time to switch the line of our questions toward kite making and design. When did you first start building, how did that come about, and what was your motivation?
I started building before I started flying. I built them because it seemed like a fun challenge and it looked to be a cheap way to have lots of fun.
I’ve continued to be enthralled with the intricacies of both sport and single line kite designs ever since.
Were there any significant resources or communities, online or otherwise that would especially useful as a hungry young kite maker?
The Kitebulder forums have been a huge help on the technical side of building. I would not be anywhere near as proficient at building as I now am without the folks there.
The community in Nosedivers Stunt Kite forum also provided a great deal of encouragement through my early designs. As with the flying though, most of my learning has been through trial and error.
Tell us about the sport kites you’re currently making and flying, what are they called and what were you aiming to capture in their designs?
Currently the kite I’m producing and flying is the Saber II. It’s intended to be a kite that can trick as precisely as the flier wants with enough precision to make it useable in competition. One thing that bothers me about a lot of kites is how they require the flier to fly the way the kite wants to fly. Of course all kites have their own personalities, but I feel that a kite should be an extension of flier. Designing the Saber II, I wanted to make a kite capable of performing all the hot tricks but in such a way that a flier could trick it slow or fast, smooth or sharp, all depending upon the intensity and speed of inputs.
Finally – what do you see yourself doing in future sport kite activities? Will you stay active in the genre, and do you see kiting remaining a long-term “focus” for Will Sturdy?
At this point in time I’m not really sure. My favorite part of kites has never been the flying, but rather the process of designing and building kites. There’s only so much that can be done with a triangle, so sport kite design is very limiting. A desire to vent some creativity is what spurred my single line designs. I’m still working on a few new sport kite designs, but I’m continuing to increase the portion of my time devoted to single line kite design.
Thank you very much for speaking with us Will, it’s been a pleasure and we wish you the very best in all you pursue.
Thanks for giving me an opportunity to share with all y’all!
If you’re interested in one of Will Sturdy’s kites, or just want to send
him a note of encouragement, be sure to visit his Facebook page.